by Jared McNitt
Earlier this spring, Jr. Cam Miller stood in goal at lacrosse practice, alert and ready to go. Jr. Joseph Franken, during an intrasquad scrimmage, got a pass from a teammate and had an open shot at goal. He wound up and ripped off a shot at an insane speed. Miller, determined to stop the shot from going into the net that is his job to protect, saw Franken’s wind up and tensed in preparation to move quickly and make the save. The ball ripped through the air toward the goal, and was stopped by Miller. But he didn’t save it the way most would believe he saved it; he saved it using his shin. Even with the shin guards he wore, the ball’s force sent a searing pain up Miller’s leg. “I felt like throwing up for about five minutes, then the pain changed to a throb that I just wanted to go away, then after about twenty minutes I touched it and it was completely numb.”
Only two months earlier, Miller was also in goal, this time as goalie for the hockey team. He knew he would be shot at soon enough, and was determined to make the save. The puck was on his team’s defensive end, and Miller was tense, preparing for the inevitable shot. He watched as the opposing player began his slapshot, his stick being brought back, then being swung at the puck with explosive force. Miller followed the puck as it began to fly off the stick towards his goal, but lost the puck through the tangle of sticks and limbs impeding his sight. At the last second, he saw the puck again, this time screaming towards him from a short distance. He knew he would have to react quickly and raise his glove to stop the puck that was headed for the top left corner of the goal. He quickly raised his glove in a desperate effort to make the save, but realized he was a tad too slow as the puck flew into the netting and he heard the siren, reinforcing his fear that the puck had made it to its intended destination. Miller felt miserable. He’s not supposed to let any goals in. That’s what the hockey world tells him. “In hockey, success means being closer to perfection than lacrosse.”
The difference, then, is evident. Playing goalie for hockey, although less painful, is much more difficult to be successful at. Hockey goalies need short term memory when scored on. Meaning if they dwell on the last goal that was scored, they will be hard pressed to save the next one, or the one after that. The hockey world expects goalies to save every shot that comes at them, and that is an impossible task. “In a lacrosse game, Coach Becker says ‘Ok defense, let’s hold them to 8 goals.’ And then as a hockey goalie, 8 goals is absolutely atrocious. Basically the mindset in lacrosse is: ’Wow. You made a save. Good job!’ But in hockey it’s more like: ‘You didn’t make that save? Wow. You need to do better.’ In general, hockey expects near perfection where lacrosse does not.”
Lacrosse, on the other hand, is a lot more painful. “Typically after a lacrosse game, the more bruises you have, the better the game went. Like against Grand Haven when I only gave up 6 goals but the next day I could barely walk because my legs hurt so much. Most lacrosse goalies are beginning to wear more padding, but we don’t wear arm pads for a free range of motion to make saves. There’s some type of pride to not wearing a lot of padding as a goalie. I’ve never really been hurt from hockey aside from a stray puck or two that got caught on the inside of my legs. The closest I’ve been to danger was when my helmet came off in a game against Reeths Puffer, but they stopped play immediately. There’s a big difference in painfulness.”
Even though the sports require different skills and attitudes, Miller has found a way to be successful in both.
“Against Grand Haven in lacrosse, I went out to pick up the ball, but three guys collapsed on me before I could grab it. They got the ball, and were about to shoot, then I slid into the net and I kicked the ball away.”
“It was a three on one during one of our hockey games, with Reece Lindeman being the one, and Reece did a really good job blocking off the pass but somehow the kid snuck a pass through him, and then I had to cross the entire net and I stopped a one timer.”
Although Miller’s job is the same for both sports: keeping the ball or puck out of the net, being goalie for hockey is completely different than for lacrosse. They require a different skill set, attitude, and mentality. Hockey requires perfection while lacrosse requires pain tolerance. West Ottawa was lucky to find someone like Miller, who can succeed in both of these important roles. Miller helped the hockey team to a solid 15-9 season this winter, and is currently helping the lacrosse team, ranked 21st in the state with 9 wins and 5 losses, to a solid season. They hope to finish the season strong going into the state tournament and maybe make a run at the state title.